Correction: The defense attorney’s last name has been corrected from a previous version.
CLEVELAND COUNTY, Okla. (KFOR)- A former University of Oklahoma student will now spend decades in prison for brutally beating his then pregnant girlfriend in 2020.
It all started on October 17, 2020 when now 21-year-old Ally Stephens showed up to a hospital unrecognizably beaten.
According to a Cleveland County affidavit, Stephens told Norman Police she was contacted by Gage Ford that night to “come over and talk.”
When Stephens arrived at the address reported on the affidavit, she and Ford talked and then argued before Ford became “violent and struck the pregnant victim several times in the face and body. The victim sustained multiple injuries to her face and head.”
At that time, the affidavit states Ford had already fled the scene as Stephens went to the hospital.
An arrest warrant was requested.
News 4 called the Muskogee County Clerk twice to obtain the arrest warrant that was issued, but was not able to get in touch with someone.
The State of Oklahoma versus Gage Ford trial started in late April where he faced 12 jurors.
During that, Assistant District Attorneys Jacobi Whatley and Abby Nathan said medical evidence, photos, and testimony were provided.
A week later, that same jury of four women and eight men found Ford guilty of two counts of criminal felony charges and one misdemeanor: two counts of assault and battery by means or force likely to produce death and one count of domestic assault and battery against a pregnant woman.
The first two counts are rarely seen in domestic violence cases as it’s the highest level of assault, according to Nathan.
Ford’s sentencing was originally set for July 27, but didn’t happen until August 24.
Heading into Wednesday’s sentencing, Stephens told KFOR, “I was very anxious. It was a lot to deal with for the past two years, but I knew that once it was over, it was going to be over and I could finally start living my life again.”
The sentencing was nearly four hours long where Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman heard from the defense, the prosecution, Stephens, Ford, Ford’s family and friends, and an investigator from the Cleveland County DA’s office.
The hearing began with one of Ford’s attorneys saying Ford doesn’t deny assaulting Stephens, but to convict someone of the two counts of assault and battery by means or force likely to produce death, the state would have to prove Stephens or her baby were likely to die because of it.
The defense noted at the time of Stephens’ hospital visit, her vitals were normal and she had no broken bones. They also stated an ultrasound was done on Stephens in which doctors found no injury to the baby.
Stephens only had a “high heart rate,” according to the defense, and then she was discharged two hours later.
The defense requested that Cleveland County Judge Thad Balkman set aside those two counts.
Right after, Nathan testified Stephens had severe trauma based on notes from a medical expert. She also said Stephens was beaten unconscious and that Ford continued to strike her even after she was unconscious, also hitting her in the stomach.
The defense’s lead attorney, Brett Behenna asked Judge Balkman for a new trial, but it was denied as he said there was “sufficient evidence” in this case already.
The hearing continued on with Behenna asking Judge Balkman to read 10 letters who were written by Ford’s loved ones. He said, “More goes into the sentencing than just the act itself,” and so he encouraged the judge to look at Ford’s background prior to the assault to learn more about his character.
Nathan said this motion was “inappropriate” and doesn’t “follow case law.”
Nathan added the letters couldn’t be verified as she only received them two days prior to the sentencing. She said she didn’t have the time to ensure each one was written in good honest faith, that she couldn’t cross examine the writers either nor have them sworn under oath.
Judge Balkman initially told the court he would not accept the letters, but Behenna said some of those who wrote letters were sitting in court and would be willing to read the letter under oath.
Six people read those letters aloud, including Ford’s brother, sister, aunt, mother, father, and great aunt.
His older brother Garrett said, “Please give Gage another chance at life.”
Garrett told the judge there wasn’t much stability in their lives as their mother was a drug addict and their father was abusive.
He added he doesn’t think someone who didn’t kill anyone should spend most of their life in prison.
His aunt said, “I don’t condone any man hitting a woman and I’m sad that it happened but I can promise it won’t happen again.”
Other family members said he was “kind” and “generous,” that this was a “mistake.”
Behenna asked for a continuance of the sentencing so he could rally the others who were unable to be there in person who wrote a letter. He asked the judge to give him time so the others could have the same opportunity to read theirs.
Judge Balkman denied that request.
Stephens’ attorneys came with a rebuttal testimony of Cleveland County DA Investigator, Jason Holasek.
Holasek said he has been with the DA’s office since 2020 as well as being a certified law enforcement agent since 2008.
Holasek testified under oath saying he investigated Ford’s case and saw discrepancies in his behavior while out on bond.
His findings were that between February 25, 2021 and March 25, 2022, he failed to check in with his GPS tracker app 129 times, he was late 74 times, and properly checked in 140 times.
Stephens was also asked to read a victim impact statement to the judge in which she said she didn’t want to be known as “that girl” or just another “pregnant woman’s story.”
Stephens said she knew of Ford’s past and wanted to help him and change him. She added she wanted a “fairy tale with him.”
“But on October 17th, he has taken that fairy tale from me,” Stephens explained.
Stephens, holding back tears, said she had just found out she was pregnant and told Ford.
Ford allegedly told Stephens, “Get rid of it.” And when he was beating her, “He told me to go to hell with my dad.”
“I felt helpless,” added Stephens. She feels now she has lost her sense of security, the fun and bubbly parts of her personality, and has reoccurring nightmares of him killing her.
Stephens explained that she was in support of the 76-year imprisonment recommendation provided by the jury.
The courtroom, mostly filled with her friends and family, was in tears after listening to Stephens’ statement.
In the prosecution’s closing argument, they said Ford’s true character was revealed and that he should be imprisoned for who he is.
“Gage Ford’s actions… Man… They spoke volumes,” stated Whatley.
Whatley added Ford is not a good candidate for probation either.
She asked that the jury’s punishment recommendation be followed.
Before Behenna said his closing argument, he requested Ford be allowed to share a statement.
The judge granted the request.
“I’m sorry for hurting Ally,” said Ford. “Hurting Ally will and always will be my biggest regret.”
Ford talked about how much he loved Stephens and should have never let the assault happen.
Stephens fled the courtroom to take a moment to herself.
As the door swung open as someone left the courtroom, Stephens was visibly emotional and in tears as a friend was consoling her.
Behenna took the stand for the last time in this sentencing and first turned to Stephens in the courtroom to say, “I first want to apologize to Miss Stephens. You didn’t deserve what happened to you.”
Behenna said Ford’s actions do deserve consequences. He asked the judge to sentence him to eight to 10 years in prison and to rehabilitation.
Ford has already been sitting behind bars for the last four months.
Judge Balkman laid down the verdict as 40 years in prison for the count of assault and battery by means or force likely to produce death, set aside the second count of this, and 36 years on probation for the third count of domestic assault and battery against a pregnant woman.
Ford will also be provided with a 52-week domestic violence course.
As Ford was leaving the courtroom, News 4 asked him, “Do you truly feel sorry for what you did?”
His response, “It’s true.”
“I think it was complete crap. I don’t believe that he was actually sorry. I think he did that, that way he could get away with this and know that he won. And I knew that. And it sucked to hear him say all those things whenever I don’t believe him. I, I don’t know if I wanted an apology for him,” said Stephens.
But now that it’s over, Stephens explained that she felt a sense of relief knowing she’ll never see him again.
Seeing Ford in court Wednesday though didn’t scare her.
“I got pretty used to it during trial just because he was right in front of me. And there was a lot of times I did have to speak right in front of him, but today I kind of felt like I had my power back and it was not him in control. So I didn’t mind staring back at him because I wanted him to know that I was that serious, that this is what I wanted to happen, that I wasn’t going to back down because that’s what he wanted me to do this whole time,” she explained.
She added she finds the sentence he was given fair.
Stephens added she was grateful for the courtroom full of friends and family as she said she wouldn’t be alive today without them.
Stephens said for anyone in a similar situation, she wants them to know they have a safe space if they reach out to her on social media. She wants those to know they’re not alone and that they too can be capable of standing up to their abuser.
“Even if you just use your voice just a little bit like it can blow up and it can save your life in the end. Because I think if if I wouldn’t have spoke up, I would not be alive right now. I think he would have killed me,” said Stephens.
Her plan is to now graduate from OU, move out of the state, and focus on her son, Steele, who was born in March of 2021.
Stephens’ attorneys are just as happy as she is about the outcome of this case.
“I, for sure, think this is a success story in domestic violence cases that we don’t often have,” explained Whatley.
News 4 spoke with Behenna after the sentencing and asked for an on-camera interview. He declined at the time as he said he was still processing what had just happened.
Behenna did say he would send a written statement regarding the outcome of the sentencing when he was ready to.